Arrival at Tahanea Atoll
01 June 2011 | Tuomotu Archipelago
We departed Makemo at sunset and sailed all night, so that we would arrive at our destination, Tahanea Atoll, in daylight and at slack tide. The Tuomotus present special challenges, as each ring shaped atoll has only a few passes to enter, and these passes can have huge, dangerous currents and waves, depending on the tides. So the general practice is to try to time the entry and exit of an atoll at slack tide, which is not easy, since this is not published. We try to time slack tide about 30 minutes after low or high tide, and when we approach the entrance, we look with binoculars at the conditions ahead within the channel. If there are large standing waves in the channel then we heave to and wait until the conditions improve.
We arrived at Tahanea around 7 a.m., but there was a still a very strong current in the channel. So we hove to, and waited a few hours until the tidal current reduced.
On entering the channel, we found the most beautiful anchorage. This place is like what everyone thinks of when they imagine Polynesia.
Like Makemo, Tahanea is like a large inland sea of perfectly flat, calm water. The atoll is large enough so that its waters extend to the horizon; you can't see all of it at once. The ring of coral surrounding it has palm trees and jungle like overgrowth, about 100 yards wide. There is no village and there are no permanent inhabitants, only copra (dried coconut) harvested by farmers who come out here seasonally.
The water here is so clear, you can easily see the anchor on the bottom through 40 feet of water. The bottom is full of coral heads, which the anchor chain can quickly get wrapped up in, so boats here use fenders to keep at least some of the anchor chain off of the bottom, to maintain some of the shock absorbing catenary.
This evening, John and I went out after dark to the tidepools at low tide, with headlamps, to hunt for lobster. We saw several, but grabbing one with your hands requires being very quick and takes a little practice. Also, grabbing these things and throwing them into a bag is a bit intimidating. After five of them got away, we managed to get one, and returned to the boat to have steamed lobster with garlic butter. We'll return the next day and hope to get several more with our improved technique.